Last week, the furore over spying allegations revealed in reports leaked by Edward Snowden that rocked Europe reached Australia. On Thursday 31 October, Fairfax papers reported that Australia had been spying on its neighbour from its Jakarta Embassy.
Regional reporting has since been dominated by the strident reactions of Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa including the comment ‘it’s not cricket’. Last Friday, he sought an explanation from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Perth while Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Greg Moriarty, was called into the Indonesian Foreign Ministry to ‘please explain’. The issue was further compounded on Sunday with reports that Australia and the US used a climate change conference to mount a joint surveillance operation on Indonesia in 2007.
Why is Indonesia so outraged? What does this mean for the bilateral relationship? If you’ve missed what’s happened, here’s a wrap-up of the major developments and salient commentary:
In addition to criticisms issued last week, Natalegawa threatened yesterday to reconsider intelligence sharing on issues like counterterrorism and people smuggling.
But as I told ABC News 24’s Joe O’Brien yesterday, this seems unlikely: Indonesia will only be hurting itself to limit cooperation on issues of mutual interest to both Jakarta and Canberra.
In retaliation for the spying allegations, hacktivist group, Anonymous Indonesia, launched attacks on approximately 200 Australian websites on 4 November. No Australian government websites were affected.
The group was reported to be motivated by patriotism. Murdoch University’s Professor David Hill has been quick to point out that it’s unlikely the group is affiliated with the government in Jakarta.
In explaining Indonesia’s severe reaction, several Indonesia watchers have noted the domestic dimension to Natalegawa’s posturing. Monash’s Professor Greg Barton remarked that Indonesia, particularly Natalegawa, had to ‘go through the motions’ given constraints in the Indonesian legislature and it was a ‘predictable drama’.
Yesterday, ANU’s Professor Michael Wesley was quoted saying this should come as no surprise as all countries spy on each other. In fact, Indonesia is so aware of the practice, they send Christmas messages to the main listening stations, noted Professor Des Ball.
In terms of the overall bilateral relationship, the damage is likely to be minimal, according to Professor Mark Beeson. Writing on The Conversation, he said ‘Both countries have powerful reasons to improve bilateral ties and there is currently much goodwill on both sides.’
Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.